Producing a novel should be fun even though it's difficult, says writer Robert Harris. And while there are guides to help you along the way, fundamentally it's all down to you.
Writing a novel - unlike operating a piece of heavy machinery, say, or cooking a chicken - is not a skill that can be taught. There is no standard way of doing it, just as there is no means of telling, while you're doing it, whether you're doing it well or badly. And merely because you've done it well once doesn't mean you can do it well again. The whole process is a mystery, devoid of rules or fairness.
In the 20 years that I've been writing fiction, three pieces of published wisdom, each offered by an eminent American novelist, have helped me along. The first was from John Irving, who maintains that any writer who embarks on a novel without knowing how it is going to end is a fool and a knave. A novel, he argues, recounts something that has already happened; therefore you cannot just make it up as you go along. This practical approach had a profound effect on me: indeed, it enabled me to complete my first novel, Fatherland which, in classic rookie fashion, had trailed to a baffled halt somewhere around page 50.